How Diet Soda Is Slowly Breaking Down Your Health
Stop Drinking Diet Sodas!
Diet Soda is slowly breaking down your health!
Did you know that consuming a soda—which is under the category of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB)—is extremely bad for our health and body. The list of adverse health outcomes is enormous. The list includes being overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome (Mets), neurodegenerative conditions, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dental cavities, and more1, You can find a link to the consumption of these sugary beverages.
This has driven many people to drink diet sodas, which nutritional value contains non-caloric, artificial sweeteners. They do so often at the insistence of researchers, healthcare practitioners, and authoritative health organizations. On the exterior, this seems rational and probably helpful. Particularly for reducing caloric intake, weight management, and improving one’s metabolic health. Unfortunately, substantial evidence is building that exposes the regular consumption of artificial sweeteners.
Susan E. Swithers, a professor of psychological sciences and a behavioral neuroscientist at my alma mater Purdue University, says, “Although it appears like that diet sodas would not be a bad for your health, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Major findings from a variety of studies show that regular consumption of diet sodas—which could be as little as one per day—can be connected to a higher probability of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure, in addition to weight gain.”2
Glycemic Control, Metabolic Function, and Gut Health
Soda’s have zero calories and no sugar, in no way should there be any concern about diet sodas when it comes to counting carbs and metabolic health, right? Wrong. Various studies have shown that drinking artificially sweetened sodas are connected with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (Mets).3,4
You probably never heard the term MetS before, it’s the health-ravaging combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat, and unhealthy blood lipids/fats (e.g., high triglycerides, low “good” HDL cholesterol). It’s bound to an expansion in seemingly all non-communicable chronic diseases. It incorporates cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, and more.
One major study obtained that the daily consumption of diet soda was related to a 36% greater risk of MetS. It is also connected with a 67% heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes.5 As far as MetS, daily diet soda consumption was associated with significantly elevated risk for abdominal obesity and high fasting blood sugar. Which means, more fat accumulating around the belly and diminished glycemic control!
Investigations like these show connections (not causation). Some studies have proposed that some confounding factors (e.g., health status, diet quality, body mass index) may explain the association. There’s also the argument that some people who drink diet sodas may be doing it to lose weight, which would confound the results of an observational study.
There are credible explanations for the relationship. For instance, some thought suggests that consuming artificially sweetened beverages stimulates the appetite for sweetness and more energy-dense foods at subsequent meals. That some people overdo for the calories, they didn’t eat by drinking diet sodas and overconsuming other foods or beverages. This type of compensation happens under the umbrella of what’s known as “hedonic eating.” This is our drive to eat for pleasure rather than for hunger.
A recent study by an Israeli researcher found that artificial sweeteners negatively change the balance of your gut bacteria (i.e., gut dysbiosis), leading to whats known as glucose intolerance and impaired metabolic function. This has led to previous research that shows artificial sweeteners (such as sucralose) adversely affect glucose metabolism and increase insulin resistance. These are major effects that are found in overweight and obese people.
Sodas Can Increase The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
In some recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, researchers investigated whether sugar- or artificially sweetened beverage consumption was linked to the risks of stroke or dementia. Their findings were that drinking diet soda daily resulted in three times higher risk for dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) and stroke compared to people who didn’t drink diet soda.
Findings from the Northern Manhattan Study found ingesting diet soda daily was associated with a heightened risk of stroke and heart attack. Another study that was based on data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals from a Follow-Up Study found regular consumption of diet sodas was related to a significantly greater risk of stroke. In a separate report from the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers found diet soda consumption was combined with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).20
Here is another profound study! They used a total of 60,000 women participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Researchers from the University of Iowa found that women who never or rarely drank diet sodas compared to women who consumed two or more per day were 30% more inclined to have a cardiovascular event (such as CHD, heart failure, heart attack, or stroke). And, they were 50% more prone to die from heart disease. In a more recent systematic review, researchers from Canada found consumption of artificial sweeteners was linked with higher incidence of high blood pressure and cardiovascular events.
Recognizing that at least 20% of Americans drink one or more diet sodas every day, these findings are staggering! If that wasn’t enough, consider that type 2 diabetes and MetS, which seem to be firmly tied to diet soda consumption, are also major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Why Drinking Sodas Causes Weight Gain and Obesity
Weight control and diet sodas, you can probably see where I’m going with this topic! We already covered the potential link between artificially sweetened sodas and the increased risk for abdominal obesity. And we stated it’s not uncommon for people to overindulge—whether consciously or unknowingly—when they drink diet sodas.
Diet soda drinkers seem to develop somewhat of resistance to sweet, sugary tastes. These experiences create less of a reward response for a given amount of sweetness. This grants some insight into the connection between diet soda consumption and obesity.
But there’s is much more!
In the San Antonio Heart Study, researchers examined weight change that included over 3,600 men and women across a 7 – 8-year period. Their findings were that the risk of weight gain and obesity were significantly elevated in those who regularly drank diet sodas compared to those who did not.
More observational studies have confirmed these findings. And, several review studies have documented the possible link between diet soda consumption and weight gain. In a recent systematic review, researchers concluded that consuming artificial sweeteners is connected to weight gain, increased waist circumference, and a higher probability of obesity.
In another recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from Iran matched the consequences of replacing diet sodas with water during a weight-loss trial. After 24 weeks of following a reduced-calorie diet, all the women in the study lost weight. However, women who drank only water lost 16% more weight. They also experienced more significant improvements in insulin sensitivity and glycemic control compared to women who drank diet soda.16 Even more interesting, the diet soda group only consumed one artificially sweetened beverage per day five days out of the week. That’s a relatively small amount.
Dementia, Cognitive Dysfunction, Behavior, and Mood
We have already shown the connection between diet soda and dementia, including Alzheimer’s.17 Type 2 diabetes which is also a risk factor for dementia.23. Many refer to Alzheimer’s disease as “type 3 diabetes” due to its overlay with type 2 diabetes, including insulin resistance in the brain.24 As we previously outlined, there’s overflowing evidence suggesting the artificial sweeteners found in diet sodas can induce insulin resistance and impair glucose tolerance.
A study published in the journal Drug and Chemical Toxicology, researchers found that long-term consumption of aspartame significantly reduced glutathione concentrations in the brain.25 Glutathione is an essential component of the brain’s antioxidant defense system. The researchers also found aspartame ingestion led to an imbalance in the antioxidant/pro-oxidant status in the brain, which is the definition of oxidative stress. Unsurprisingly, given its role in preventing oxidative stress, reduced glutathione concentrations are connected with Alzheimer’s disease and numerous other neurodegenerative conditions.26
In another study published in the journal Redox Biology, scientists once again connected aspartame to altered neural function and neurodegeneration. In this study, scientists from India found long-term consumption of aspartame, a sugar substitute consumed by roughly 200 million people worldwide, significantly increased oxidative stress (e.g., reduced glutathione, increased free radicals) in the brains of rats leading to distorted brain function and the death of brain cells.27
While many of the studies on artificial sweeteners have been administered on animals, there is emerging human evidence as well. For example, in a study published in the journal Research in Nursing & Health, researchers analyzed the short-term effects of aspartame on neurobehavioral effects. People consuming a moderate amount of aspartame for eight days were more irritable in mood, exhibited more depression, and performed worse on spatial orientation tests.28
In another study, scientists from the National Cancer Institute evaluated the connection between soft drink consumption and the risk of depression among a sample of over 260,000 participants in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. They found daily consumption of diet sodas significantly increased the risk for depression among older adults.29
One possible explanation is that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame have neurological effects. These may lead to imbalanced levels of critical neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin. This is interesting because it may also tie into issues like headaches and insomnia that some people experience when consuming diet sodas and other artificially sweetened products.30
One of the reasons the artificial sweetener aspartame is thought to increase the risk of neurologic deficits and cancer is that of its conversion to methanol and formaldehyde.30 Briefly, aspartame is made up of three ingredients: methanol, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine. When stored near or above room temperature, methanol turns into formaldehyde, which is a known human carcinogen.
In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers reviewing data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study found an alarming statistic. Men and women drinking one or more diet sodas per day had a 42% greater risk of leukemia compared to those who consumed none.31
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